Importance of nurse logs as a substrate for the regeneration of pioneer tree species on Barro Colorado Island, Panama

Evelyn Sanchez, Rachel Gallery, James W. Dalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fallen tree trunks (nurse logs) are important recruitment sites for trees in temperate forest, however nurse log use is seldom reported in tropical forests. We predicted that logs should be important for the regeneration of small-seeded tropical pioneer species because surface leaf litter and competition with established vegetation reduces the establishment success of these species from soil seed banks. In a survey on Barro Colorado Island, Panama, we found that pioneer seedlings were present on logs in 40 of 95 recent treefall gaps. In gaps where seedlings were present on logs, seedling density was not significantly different from adjacent areas of soil. However, species composition was significantly different; logs were disproportionately colonized by smaller-seeded and wind-dispersed species. In growing-house experiments using 12 species, we found that wood substrate had little effect on seed germination. In contrast, seedling growth was 50% lower on decayed wood than soil. Furthermore, species growth rates on wood were not significantly correlated with growth rates in soil (df = 10, r = 0.48). If establishment on logs eventually leads to recruitment to the forest canopy, then logs may promote the maintenance of diversity by favouring a different group of species from those that recruit in soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-437
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Seed germination
  • Seedling establishment
  • Seedling growth
  • Species coexistence
  • Treefall gap
  • Wood

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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